Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (13 March) . . Page.. 1075 ..
Act which, among other things, gives same-sex couples equal protection from discrimination to that which heterosexual couples have enjoyed to date.
The inclusive term domestic partner has already replaced the term de facto spouse throughout the statute books in most other jurisdictions. It is good to see this step being undertaken here in the ACT. I also commend the move to replace the term marital status with relationship status, in recognition of the reality of the lives of so many people.
The bill also makes a change to the definition of impairment, which is the word used to cover a broad range of disabilities which may be the cause of unlawful discrimination. I have consulted with the disability sector about this definition. They appear to be satisfied with it, so I will be satisfied with it as well.
The new definition is in step with current science, because it recognises that genetic disorders can now be identified before symptoms start to manifest, and that discrimination on the basis of a future disability has become a real possibility.
However, this act does allow discrimination under certain circumstances, including the dismissal of a disabled person where the employer cannot afford to accommodate their disabilities. This is something which I am sure we all have some reservations about, but the reality is that the government has not yet chosen to shoulder the cost of measures to integrate all disabled people into the workplace of their choice.
Some employers will not be able to afford to support a substantially disabled person in their workplace. I hope this is something the ACT government and governments across Australia will revisit down the track. It is to the benefit of our society if all disabled people are able to lead full, productive lives where they work, as much as they are able to do so, and are supported to contribute as they choose.
Finally, this bill allows enforcement of conciliated agreements which are made to settle discrimination complaints. This seems eminently sensible. It is remarkable that this change has not been made sooner. I understand the Attorney-General will be moving amendments to bring the Discrimination Act definitions into line with the legislation we have just passed, removing discrimination and defining relationship status and domestic partner. Those are amendments I will be happy to support. Whilst I have some reservations about the clauses permitting discrimination in employment, the ACT Democrats will be supporting this bill.
MR STANHOPE(Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for the Environment) (5.49), in reply: As members know, last year I introduced this bill as part of the government's commitment to ensuring that discrimination laws provide proper protection for the people of the ACT. It is appropriate that it is now being debated in conjunction with the Legislation (Gay, Lesbian and Transgender) Amendment Bill 2002-soon to be the Legislation (Gay, Lesbian and Transgender) Amendment Act.
The Legislation (Gay Lesbian and Transgender) Act will include new definitions of domestic partner, domestic partnership and transgender person in the Legislation Act 2001. This bill includes the definitions of domestic partner and domestic partnership in the Discrimination Act 1991.